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Few positions up for grabs

Posted by Eric Fisher On February 14

For a team that won 71 games last year, the Phillies’ roster seems remarkably settled as spring training begins.

The starting infield looks the same as it did when last season ended. The starting infield consists of Tommy Joseph at first base, Cesar Hernandez at second base, Freddy Galvis at shortstop, and Maikel Franco at third base. Andres Blanco is the backup at every infield position.

Cameron Rupp returns as the starting catcher, and Odubel Herrera starts in center field. The only new faces in the starting lineup are outfielders Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders, with Kendrick slated to start in left field and Saunders in right.

Barring an injury, the starting lineup listed above is nearly set in stone. There are, however, questions about the pitching staff and the bench.

With pitchers and catchers reporting Monday, and the rest of the players scheduled to report to Clearwater by Thursday, the following are 10 questions to consider during spring training.

Who will be in the starting rotation?

This seems almost as easy as projecting the starting lineup. If Aaron Nola is healthy, the rotation should consist of Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz, Vince Velasquez and Nola. But that’s a big “if.” After being shut down last summer due to right elbow problems, Nola has a lot to prove this spring.

If Nola’s elbow is not sufficiently healed, Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, Alec Asher and Adam Morgan will be waiting in the wings. Of course, Eflin had offseason surgery on both knees and Thompson has had wrist soreness, so Nola isn’t the only pitcher with health concerns.

Will the starting rotation be the same during the second half of the season as the first half?

The Phillies hope not.They don’t have anything against Clay Buchholz or Jeremy Hellickson, but the Phillies would be pleased if these veterans pitched well enough to be attractive to contenders at the trade deadline.

Who will be the closer?

This is one of the storylines to watch closely during spring training. Jeanmar Gomez is the incumbent. He saved 37 games last season, but he faded down the stretch. If Gomez falters, Hector Neris and Joaquin Benoit will be waiting to pounce on the opportunity to be the closer. Neris spent most of the season as the eighth-inning setup man, but he has a better arsenal – a fastball and splitter – than Gomez to be a closer. Phillies general manager added veterans Benoit and Pat Neshek to the mix during the offeseason. Benoit split his season between the Mariners and Blue Jays last season. He was awful with Seattle; he was terrific with Toronto. Edubray Ramos, Joely Rodriguez, Sean Burnett and Luis Garcia are candidates to round out the bullpen. Adam Morgan could also earn a bullpen spot as a long reliever.

Are there any young players who could crack the lineup or the rotation?

Not without an injury, and not at the start of the season. It’s possible that J.P. Crawford could supplant Freddy Galvis at shortstop midway through the season, particularly if Galvis doesn’t improve his horrendous on-base percentage (.274). It’s also plausible that a young outfielder earns a starting role if the Phillies can get good prospects for Howie Kendrick or Michael Saunders at the trade deadline.

Which young outfielders could be on the roster at the start of the season?

Aaron Altherr is likely to start the season as the fourth outfielder. Veteran Chris Coghlan could be a valuable left-handed hitter coming off the bench and making spot starts. It makes more sense to have Coghlan in that role than a young player such as Roman Quinn or Andrew Pullin. The Phillies also have Tyler Goeddel, a Rule 5 pickup who stuck around all of last season.

Will Matt Stairs make a difference?

Stairs moves from the broadcast booth to the dugout, where he serves as the Phillies’ hitting coach. It’s difficult to measure situational hitting during spring training, where pitchers throw just a few innings and the score doesn’t really matter, but seeing Phillies hitters taking more pitches and working deeper counts would be a positive sign.

Speaking of working deep counts, what should we look for from Vince Velasquez?

Look for the opposite of what we’re looking for from Phillies hitters. If Velasquez can limit the number of pitches he throws, he might last longer than the fifth inning more often. Because opposing hitters might have a different approach than the regular season, spring training isn’t the perfect barometer, but it would be encouraging to see Velasquez keep his pitch count down.

Who will be the backup catcher?

Andrew Knapp could be the backup, especially with Jorge Alfaro requiring playing time at Class AAA Lehigh Valley, but veterans Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday are in training camp.

With the starting positions seemingly filled, who else could make the roster as a backup?

Brock Stassi is a left-handed bat and has a reputation for being terrific defensively at first base. Stassi also can play outfield. His versatility is a positive in terms of making the roster.

Will people overreact to events during spring traing?

Of course. That’s what people do during spring training. Remember that when you read about a prospect batting nearly .400 or a pitcher putting together a streak of shutout innings.

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